Death of a celebrity


You have to wonder whether our culture is robust enough to survive the death of Jade Goody.

Non-British readers probably need to be told that Ms Goody is the most repulsive, rebarbative result yet thrown up by our oxymoronic "celebrity culture." She's a 27-year-old who, in 2002, became notorious as the youngest contestant on the fatuous TV reality show "Big Brother." Despite the fact that she had at the time been evicted from her subsidised council flat owing £3,000 in unpaid rent and was facing jail over her unpaid council tax bill, it wasn't enough to earn her the sympathy of viewers, and she only came fourth.


She then made a career of being an obnoxious misfit, losing weight, having a documentary about her that ensured lots of tabloid coverage, having a couple of babies, named Bobby Jack and Freddie, splitting from the father of the kids - though not before they had appeared together on "Celebrity Wife Swap." You get the idea, sub-trailer trash tabloid slebs.

Now Ms Goody appears in the papers bald (and even a little bit winsome). Her hair has gone because of her treatment for cervical cancer, which has now spread, and she expects to die, very soon and very publicly. In the meantime, sleb slimeballs' agent Max Clifford is looking after her affairs, and she (or her estate) looks set to garner £1m, says the Guardian. In an "exclusive" interview she gave last week to Britain's sleaze-sheet News of the World, she said: "I've lived my whole adult life talking about my life. The only difference is that I'm talking about my death now. It's OK. I've lived in front of the cameras. And maybe I'll die in front of them."

Even the Government has thrust its hands in Ms Goody's pitch - and defiled itself. Tomorrow, Sunday, 22 Feb., she is to marry her fiancé Jack Tweed. The only problem is that this young man is subject to a curfew that was a condition of his early release from prison where he was serving a sentence for assaulting a teenager with a golf club. The hopelessly silly Justice Secretary Jack Straw has interceded to allow his thuggish namesake to spend his wedding night and the next day until 3.0 with his blushing bride. She'll be wearing a wedding dress given to her by another sympathetic character, the saintly owner of Harrods, the mad fantasist Mohamed Fayed.

Jade Goody is the most glaring example of the degradation of British popular culture. She's sold 113,000 copies of her first autobiography (astonishing though it is that she can read, let alone write), appeared in loads of rubbish telly programmes, and has launched a perfume. Can you imagine anyone wanting to smell like such a person? The fickle public sometimes despised her - in 2006 for crapping out of the London Marathon after 21 miles, having prepared for it by eating loads of junk food and takeaway meals; and in January, 2007, when she was accused of being a racist bully on another Big Brother bugger-up.

OK, Ms Goody deserves some pity. Dysfunctional dad was a heroin-addict pimp who abandoned her and her mother, "Jackiey," whom the Times describes as "a clipper - a woman who pretends to procure prostitutes for clients then runs off with the money."

The only good thing Ms Goody will ever have done in life is to see that her children profit by her death sufficiently to have the education she so strikingly lacked. This is entirely commendable. But isn't there something morally wrong (and not just in bad taste) about the subject of her imminent death being the topic of editorials in the serious newspapers and the lead story on news broadcasts? Aren't we all a bit soiled by the filth of a sad, bad life lived so publicly and profitably? This is the logical development of celebrity culture, whether it's the upmarket tosh of Vanity Fair or Tatler or the underclass nastiness of Hello!

Of course, maybe I'm totally wrong. Maybe some Verdi, Puccini or Berg will come along, set the life and death of Jade Goody to music, and transform this tawdry vita brevis tale into art.

February 21, 2009 3:33 PM | | Comments (6)


Emma, OK, I think your comment about the smear test is valid, and I have to concede that she might have "enriched lives." I can't possibly deny that. But I still don't see any reason to value every person's life equally sub speciae aeternitatis. Perhaps that's because I am fundamentally and absolutely unable to take a religious view of human life - there is no way I can see anything divine in Ms Goody. Human, worthy of at least minimal respect for being human, yes. My duty is to treat her as an end in herself, not as a means to anything else (as Kant teaches, not as St Paul, Jesus or Jehovah says). But that's all.

A valuable contribution? Well, that's very subjective. It leads into a whole discussion about what we class as 'valuable.'

Being a composer? A dancer? A blogger? A critic ? Are these all valuable pursuits, enriching society? I suppose it depends on who has been touched and enriched. Those who despise Jade Goody, presumably.

I think the danger in kicking her - or anyone - so mercilessly is that it deepens divisions. Would her imminent death be more valid and worthy of inclusion in the broadsheets if she had a cut glass accent and a career as a poet?
She has enriched lives, maybe not in your world, but certainly for many others.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of hers, or of reality TV, which I think is cynically made by educated execs to exploit the 'chavs.'
But she's used them too, and is one of the few reality 'stars' who has had any longevity. She's appealing in her vulnerability and thus has won the hearts of many.

And if her only contribution to wider society is that she's made more women go and have a smear test, that's good enough for me.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, even if it was negative. I feel the post makes it clear that it's the behaviour I'm calling repulsive and obnoxious, not the person -- or, at least, not whatever's left over of a human being when you subtract the behaviour. Do you really think that Jade Goody's contribution to our shared humanity is valuable? However much she should be cherished by those who care for her, do you genuinely feel that the life she has lived has made us -- or society, or civilisation -- any better? It is surely possible to treat every human being as an end in herself, without having to praise the life she has lived, or even having to be neutral about it.

Actually, I'm stunned by the vitriol in this post. Calling another human being 'repulsive' and 'obnoxious' because she doesn't fit with your cultural barometer? How clever! How original!
Jade Goody is a 27 -year- old who is dying too young, and will leave two boys without a mother. Why should she go quietly?
And remember, when she breathes her last she'll be going to the same place as your beloved Verdi, Puccini and Berg.
We're all the same in the end, but sadly it's those who should know better that uphold our perceived differences.

Yes, the Defoe analogy hadn't occurred to me. And it's probably true that I sound like a puritan (and don't want to). But I hate the idea that we NEED these distasteful - and I really do think, immoral - dramas to cheer up a dreary existence. This is no doubt true for the readers of the red-top papers, but the doings of Jade & co., like those of 13-year-old father Alfie, fill pages in ALL the papers, including the low-circulation "quality" press. Perhaps the correct analogy isn't the 17th century, but the decadent period of the late Roman Empire. Jade and Alfie are just doing what comes naturally to children of the underclass. It is our being entertained by their doings that sticks in my moral craw.

Paul, think of Jade Goody as Moll Flanders. All that remains is for her to make a miracle recovery after the wedding. These 'slebs' are not real people but characters in a drama that we all (apparently) need to pep up our increasingly dreary and fraught lives. By taking notice of them you run the risk of sounding like a 17th Century puritan preacher, the last thing you would want to be. Yes, our society is sick, but it always has been and always will be. The only difference between opera and soap opera is the genius of the composer, not the worthiness of the subject.

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This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on February 21, 2009 3:33 PM.

Off-Broadway London? was the previous entry in this blog.

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